The Apprentice: Marching orders

Apprentice logoThis week the teams are tasked with putting on ‘awaydays’ for corporate clients. Evolve hoped to get an A+ for their school-based theme but ended up with a shambles which made St Trinian’s look like Eton. Meanwhile Endeavour sought to execute their army theme with military precision, only for much of their day to resemble Dad’s Army. Neither client was impressed and in the boardroom it was left to Lord Sugar to declare that school was out for Rebecca Slater, who became the sixth student candidate to be expelled by the Digit of Doom™.

Image: BBC

The British Army isn’t as fearsome as it used to be … (Image: BBC)

School dinners versus ‘medieval and majestic’

6am at the Apprenti-Mansion™, and instead of being treated to another Myles Mordaunt Underwear Moment™ we get Jordan Poulton carefully wrapping a towel around his waist as he descends the staircase to answer the phone. There must be some correlation between state of undress and task success, as Myles and Jordan started this task as two of the only three candidates with perfect 5-0 task records (incredibly, Jason Leech being the other).

Myles switched teams again (Image: BBC)

Myles switched teams again (Image: BBC)

The candidates are summoned to Guildhall in the City, a common venue for corporate events. Lord Sugar enters to a burst of choral music – sadly not the soundtrack to The Omen, which might have been more appropriate – and tasks the teams with putting on an awayday (not a jolly, as Sugar stresses) for two corporate clients. The winner will be decided by a combination of profit and customer satisfaction. In a minor Apprenti-Shuffle™, Myles is moved back to Endeavour to join Leah Totton, Alex Mills, Neil Clough, Kurt Wilson and Natalie Panayi. That leaves Jordan, Jason, Luisa Zissman, Francesca MacDuff-Varley and Rebecca Slater on Evolve. Sugar names Leah and Francesca as project managers (the latter has some previous experience in corporate events) and sets the teams off on their assignment, with Luisa immediately making her feelings about the corporate world clear:

I think it’s boring. The people are dull.

Just a point: isn’t Sugar himself a corporate man? Or the banks who Luisa might want to invest in her business ideas? How to win friends and influence people …

The teams discuss possible themes. For Endeavour, Neil likes a school theme but Leah wants something more historical. Deadlocked, she puts it to a team vote, which comes down 4-2 in favour of the school theme. With democracy not working out for her, she puts her foot down and sticks with her history theme, leaving Neil and Alex fuming.

Evolve opt for the school concept. With Francesca wanting to focus on quality activities, they discuss ideas such as wine tasting and chocolate-making.

Leah didn't impress her client by being late (Image: BBC)

Leah didn’t impress her client by being late (Image: BBC)

Brainstorming done, both teams split up. Half go to meet their client, while the rest start sourcing activities. Francesca’s sub-team meets with travel company lastminute.com, while Leah is late for her meeting with the head of Barclays Retail Banking. When they finally turn up, they learn that the client wants to improve his branch managers’ listening and communication skills. Leah seems a little taken aback that they don’t want to focus on fun. Clearly she could have done with better listening skills during the task brief. At least she realises that her “classic, medieval, majestic, escapist theme” doesn’t really fit that particular bill. Scrambling for a new idea, they switch tracks to an army-based concept.

Meanwhile, Endeavour’s other sub-team led by Neil negotiate a good deal on an archery session. He later suggests hiring some giant inflatable sumo suits. Leah thinks it’s distasteful – well, it’s hardly classic, medieval and majestic, is it? – but they do it anyway.

Luisa saved her team vital money (Image: BBC)

Luisa saved her team vital money (Image: BBC)

Leah puts Luisa in charge of her activity sub-team, and she and Jason go to visit a chocolatier, where they are quoted a steep price for a chocolate-making session. Luisa, whose offer of running her own cupcake-making sessions – she runs a cake-making business – was earlier slapped down by Francesca, decides that’s what they’re going to do anyway. Ostensibly it’s to save money – in reality it’s clear that it’s more because she can’t stand Francesca. It’s probably just as well, as Francesca and Rebecca – despite Jordan’s best efforts to manage the budget – do a supermarket sweep around Morrisons, piling on cost. Later, Rebecca convinces Francesca to spend £600 on a motivational speaker to close their day. Meanwhile Endeavour opt to allow Neil to do the job.

It ain’t half crap, mum

The following morning both teams set up in preparation for receiving 16 delegates, all ready to learn valuable business lessons from a bunch of reality TV wannabes. No, really.

We discover that Francesca’s drive to deliver quality over profit has extended to spending £300 on props including giant pink flamingos (as seen in schools everywhere?) It’s a bit of a shame they didn’t see the ironic comedy in bringing in a load of white elephants instead. Meanwhile Endeavour introduce Alex in combat fatigues and face paint. Captain Eyebrows™ attempts to channel Rambo, The A-Team‘s Hannibal Smith and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum‘s Battery Sergeant Major Williams in equal measure. See what I mean:

Endeavour soon have their motley crew of Barclays managers formation marching as a team and honing their communication skills by playing blind bowls and quoits. However, they haven’t planned for a rainy day – literally – as a shower sends them scrambling back indoors and forces Leah to improvise a session on conflict resolution involving Neil and Myles in the giant sumo suits. If someone can please explain that to me, that would be great – because I often find myself reaching for an inflatable body suit when I have a conflict I want to resolve at work.

Once the weather clears up, things improve during the afternoon. Neil and Myles manage to put some structure around all the activities, linking everything back to communication and listening skills as requested by Barclays.

Neil proved to be a good motivational speaker (Image: BBC)

Neil proved to be a good motivational speaker (Image: BBC)

Evolve organise some team plank-skiing – I don’t remember ever doing that in double-P.E. – followed by a beef stew which appears to be inedible, so at least that part of the day provides an authentic school experience. This is then followed by wine-tasting and Luisa’s cupcake session. Now it’s a long time since I was at school, but I’m pretty sure neither of those are on the GCSE curriculum. As one of the lastminute.com participants observes, it’s all good fun but there’s a distinct lack of a school theme or anything but the most tenuous link to the stated business objectives.

Both teams close the day with their motivational speakers. Neil comes up trumps by delivering a speech straight from the heart, talking about his personal drivers. He’s surprisingly engaging and relates well to his audience. Francesca’s external speaker is praised by one of the delegates as being the best part of the day – which, when you think about it, speaks volumes about the (lack of) effectiveness of the rest of the day.

Boardroom brouhaha™

Back in the boardroom, it’s clear that neither team has performed outstandingly well. Leah is criticised for her indecision in putting the theme to a vote and then overriding it anyway, for turning up late to her client meeting and for coming up with a lame historical theme. Karren Brady pulls no punches on this last point:

It was a completely half-arsed idea.

Evolve fare even worse, with an incredulous Sugar asking what wine tasting had to do with their school theme and pointing out the complete absence of business messages. And while Rebecca stands by her project manager, Jordan and Luisa are quick to proclaim her as weak.

Francesca's overspending cost her team victory (Image: BBC)

Francesca’s overspending cost her team victory (Image: BBC)

Neither team has fully satisfied their client’s expectations, and the results bear this out. Endeavour spent £2,170.50 of their £5,000 budget, but Barclays asked for a 25% refund (£1,250) because their itinerary collapsed when the rain started – leaving a profit of £1,579.50. Evolve spent £2,654.19 but were also hit with a £1,250 refund because they failed to deliver on their client’s objectives – giving them a profit of £1,095.81. Endeavour win – essentially on the basis of spending £483.69 less.

Sugar adds that the Barclays delegates were impressed by Neil’s motivational speech, and points out tartly that Leah should thank her team for delivering victory. A fair comment, as Leah seemed to have little control over how the day itself ran, with Neil in particular and also Myles instrumental in making things tick. Although, if you ask me, the fact that they had to give as big a refund as Evolve was ridiculous – while far from perfect, they at least had a vaguely coherent theme and did focus on delivering what the client wanted.

Endeavour head to a luxury spa with Myles now the only candidate with a perfect 6-0 record and Natalie finally breaking her duck. (Alex, unsurprisingly, gets his eyebrows done.) Evolve have lunch from the local Spar and a cuppa at the Cafe of Broken Dreams™ (now available for corporate events). Jordan points out that if they hadn’t spent £600 on their speaker they would have won (although, given that this was the only part of their day that actually seemed to work, they might also have been asked to give a bigger refund). Luisa lays into Francesca for being an awful PM.

Back in the boardroom Francesca spouts a lot of empty words about being inspirational, motivational and creative, adding fuel to Luisa’s anti-corporate rhetoric. Sugar questions whether Jason who, for the second time in three weeks spent much of the task hiding in a kitchen, is a waste of space. But above all we keep coming back to the fact that both the theme and the delivery against the client’s brief was virtually non-existent. Sugar warns Francesca not to base her decision on who to bring back on personal motivations, and she then brings back Luisa – for entirely personal reasons – and Rebecca.

Ultimately Rebecca didn't show Sugar enough to make him keep her (Image: BBC)

Ultimately Rebecca didn’t show Sugar enough to make him keep her (Image: BBC)

Francesca attacks Luisa for her comments about not liking the corporate world, and the latter certainly doesn’t help her own case, admitting that sometimes she speaks before she thinks, reinforcing Sugar’s opinion that she may be someone who easily alienates others. Sugar says that she is “a bit of a bombshell” (it’s not a compliment) and that “I’ve got my eye on you” (again, not a compliment), and admits he’s now unsure about her.

He tells Francesca that, despite her prior relevant experience, her leadership proved disastrous. But he saves his final comments for Rebecca, from whom he says he hasn’t seen much other than some selling ability, and for that reason he fires her.

Having pointedly warned Francesca not to bring the wrong people back with her, you have to say the project manager had a very lucky escape. Luisa is a walking personality clash, but she made recommendations and decisions which saved her team money, and made positive contributions on the day itself. Her presence in the boardroom was difficult to justify, despite the silliness of her anti-corporate comments.

In the Taxi to Obscurity™, Rebecca was clearly surprised to have been sent packing:

I’m disappointed I’ve not been able to show Lord Sugar more of my abilities. I didn’t think I’d be going today. I feel a bit in shock, really.

Half-term report

As we reach the halfway point of the competition – six weeks down, six to go – here’s my summary assessment of each of our final ten.

Alex: (Task record 4-2, 0-0 as PM, 0 appearances in the final boardroom.) A solid performer, with his Foldo chair design a clear high point. Can show his frustration with teammates (Jason, Zee, Leah) too easily, though. The only remaining candidate not to have been a project manager. Grade: B.

Francesca: (2-4, 0-1 as PM, 2 appearances.) Struggled with numbers in the beer task and as PM this week, otherwise has been quietly competent for the most part. A solid team member, but neither a leader nor a winner? Grade: B-.

Jason: (5-1, 1-0, 0.) The Boris Johnson of this year’s candidates: academically bright, but a congenial buffoon who seems ill-equipped for the job at hand. Partly makes up for in comedy value what he lacks in business nous – but only partly. Grade: D.

Jordan: (5-1, 1-0, 0.) Organised, efficient, a good leader. Has shown good all-round strength and arguably had the fewest poor moments of any candidate. My current favourite to win. Grade: A-.

Kurt: (4-2, 1-0, 1.) Quiet, efficient but suffered from tunnel vision in the farm shop task and got his centimetres and inches mixed up in Dubai. Solid but lacks dynamism, a bit of a plodder. Grade: C.

Leah: (2-4, 1-0, 1.) Shown to be a strong seller in the early tasks, but has gone backwards in the last two weeks. Poor leadership and saved by her team this week. Grade: B-.

Luisa: (2-4, 1-0, 1.) Antagonistic, obstinate and unlikeable, but works hard and has generally shown sound business instincts. But could Sugar stand working with her? Grade: B.

Myles: (6-0, 1-0, 0.) Was fortunate to win as PM in Dubai but is now the only candidate with a perfect record. Works well in teams, smooth and a consistent performer – but will his well-to-do background (he lives in Monaco) count against him? Grade: B+.

Natalie: (1-5, 0-1, 2.) Low impact in tasks, including her disastrous stint as flat-pack PM. Overcompensates with aggressive behaviour in the boardroom. Has shown no discernible talent so far. Grade: E.

Neil: (4-2, 0-1, 1.) Not lacking in confidence, yet seems to be well-liked. Occasionally excellent (e.g. this week), some good and a bit of not-so-good. Under the brash exterior, there is definite potential and drive. Grade: B+.

Next week: The teams are tasked with selling products at the Motorhome and Caravan Show.

The Apprentice continues on Wednesdays on BBC1, with companion show You’re Fired following immediately afterwards on BBC2.

Season 9 reviews

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Beer

Flat-pack

Farm shop

Dubai

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15 Comments on The Apprentice: Marching orders

  1. I like your individual assessments, and Jordan impressed me with his leadership in the Foldo task, so I can see him winning too. Anyone but Neckbeard and Dr. Leah. I can’t remember when I’ve disliked a contestant as much as the latter.

    I have some sympathy for Francesca, but I don’t see her going much further. But as long as my faves Alex and Jason (Boris, LOL. You’re right, and I should hate that he plays it up, but I can’t help but like the twit. Jason that is, not Boris!) are in it, I’ll keep watching.

    I would have loved to see Jaz on this task.

    • Though, I forgot to add, nothing really matters but the business idea, right? Tom Pellereau had one of the most disastrous PM turns ever. Crossing my fingers LordS likes Alex’s idea.

      • As you say, it’s all about the idea – or, in Tom P’s case, the idea that he had left idle before The Apprentice. The tasks showcase a candidate’s ability to lead and work effectively in teams – they say nothing about how investable they are. Or else Helen would have won instead of Tom two years ago.

  2. Good review of the individual candidates, and I agree that Jordan, Neil and Myles stand out at the minute (though I did think that Jordan was weak as an accountant last night, and quick to stab Francesca in the back, so I would grade him a bit lower).

    Neil is the dark horse; annoying, arrogant, but often right.

    The task this week failed because both teams had their ideas before getting the client input. Thanks to Myles and Neil, Endeavour were able to at least make their day seem coherent.

    You can read my thoughts at http://markdecosemo.com/2013/06/05/the-apprentice-week-6-childs-play/#comment-357

    • Hi Mark. Of course, the teams were forced to come up with an idea first. Leah’s team at least adapted and came up with a concept that was better than their original and at least looked coherent for the most part. Francesca’s idea was OK but executed with no real thought for coherence or relevance to what the client wanted. And what was with those flamingos?!?

  3. Good assessment as ever, especially the individuals.

    Do you think that Jason sees himself as a Tom Pellereau? But without the practical side…

    He is very lucky to have avoided the boardroom because he is clearly sidelined in every task (though someone has to peel the carrots and bake the spuds).

    I don’t think that any are particularly engaging characters. I thnk that Neil is probably the front runner but that is not really where you want to be at this stage. He has a strong alliance with Myles and that will help whilst they are on the same team – is it time for them to be mixed up a bit more?

    I have to say that I found last night’s task the most tedious for a while. It was poor without the humour that we see when there are real cock-ups and to be fair to the [s]idiots[/s] candidates it is not something that you would want to do without experience of business and that is what they all lack. Most tasks have a common sense or mainstream business basis but in an attempt to do something new the Beeb failed with this task…

    • My suspicion – based on absolutely nothing – is that Jason has something quite novel and interesting as a business idea, but he would need so much support and guidance to make it happen that Sugar would decide he’s too high-maintenance to invest in. Not that I expect him to make it to the interviews, mind you.

      Amazingly, this was the first time Jason has been on the losing team. In some ways he’s a benefit to any team as there is always something ‘back-room’ that needs doing in every task, and he seems to do it without complaint while others complain about their wounded egos and how they’re being under-utilised,

      Neil’s definitely a front-runner now – he seems to be on a similar trajectory to Ricky Martin last year. Not the finished article and came on too strong to start with, but he’s calming down and on the whole doing pretty well. He’d been separated from Myles for a couple of weeks – remember Myles moved back to Endeavour this week after a couple of weeks in Evolve. Neil’s always been on Endeavour (although apparently he’s moving next week).

      I thought the task was OK – nice to see them try something different – but it was perhaps too hard. Organise and prepare an awayday one day and deliver it the next? That’s a tough gig. Of course, as you say, they should have spoken to the client first before coming up with themes, but obviously that wasn’t the order the producers dictated to them.

      • I had forgotten that they were separated but I think that Neil is the stronger pesonality and Myles is a good number two. A better candidate for the old Apprentice when a job was at stake than the current version.

        Jason must have something but as you say won’t last but he might be lucky – he has to lose again (well, that is likely) but there is always a strong possibility that someone makes a bigger cock up than simply doing very little and he then survives with the “I’ll be keeping my eye on you now back to the house” speech.

        My biggest gripe with this task was that it was all arse about face. They create a theme and then have to fit it to the brief…it was all wrong! Anyway, back to basic sales next week, only it is usually about product selection. There are some very good sales people on this show so it might be interesting.

        • Sugar will force the issue at some stage by making Jason PM again. With the exception of Alex (the only one who hasn’t led a team yet), everyone has now PM’d once but Jason’s stint was in week 1.

          Neil has potential but still seems a bit raw. Myles, who’s older and has achieved more, is unsurprisingly a more rounded candidate – but I’m convinced Sugar will count his Monaco lifestyle against him.

          For sure, the task was backwards but it did fall into line with the accepted order of Apprentice tasks: brainstorm first, come up with a silly idea, wait for research to prove it’s idiotic, ignore research, await impending disaster.

  4. Luisa branding herself as anti-corporate might well help her – I can’t remember Lordalan using the word as anything other than a negative in boardrooms past (about people like James MacQ or Stella). Obviously he himself IS very much a “corporate type” but that very exact corporate type who would swear blind that they aren’t.

    Re : the candidates as individuals, I can’t really see past Neil or Jordan. That’s not to disallow someone from getting lucky, filling up a free final slot through luck/other people flaming out and winning due to their business plan/RAYZOOMAY but across the first 6 tasks they’ve been by far the best. Overall I say I’d broadly agree with your assessment, except I’d knock Myles down a grade or two. I still don’t really *get it*.

    • For sure, both Sugar and candidates have used the word ‘corporate’ as synonymous with ‘bureaucratic’, ‘boring’ and ‘uses bullshitty language’ (oh, the irony of that coming out of the mouth of an Apprentice candidate!)

      I’d have to agree with Neil and Jordan as being the favourites, with Alex tucked in behind them. Myles has performed solidly so far (although a bit lucky in Dubai), hence the high grade, but he also seems to fall into the James Max category of ‘posh, rich and already successful’ which means Sugar will never allow him to win. He’s probably second-best in my eyes, but no better than fourth or fifth-most likely to win.

      Such is the show’s occasional randomness, I’m fully expecting Myles to be fired before both Jason and Natalie.

      • I don’t think either Jason or Natalie can feasibly survive any boardroom moving forwards. Even if they’re on the same team it’ll probably trigger this series’ requisite Double Firing. They’re definitely relying on the largesse on their PMs moving forwards, and I don’t see many people left being as generous as Francesca was.

  5. Great episode. Don’t like Jordan – he’s a bit slimy. Neil Clough has shot ahead and, underneath that brash exterior, has been an excellent team player at times and saved this week’s task.

    • Neil’s been a bit up-and-down for me, but behind the rough edges he has a similar spark to Ricky Martin last year. This week in particular appeared to mark a key pivot point in a classic Apprentice ‘redemption arc’.

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